Marriage, unrealistic ideals and Paul VI’s advice

Some committed Catholics today, like Donatists, think that one strike is the only and permanent strike, without possibility of conversion, penance and return to the path of holiness.

Some others today, on the other hand, claim that the Church – for example in the writings of the 19th Ecumenical Council – laid down ideals for people to live. But because they are ideals, and not practical and rooted in “lived experience”, we shouldn’t insist on them. After all, ideals are, well, ideal and not reality. Right?

Speaking of Humanae vitae, we find in section 25, Paul VI’s words to Catholic married couples who fall into sin.  Let’s read it:

For this reason husbands and wives should take up the burden [aka “ideal”] appointed to them, willingly, in the strength of faith and of that hope which “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  [aka “grace”] Then let them implore the help of God with unremitting prayer and, most of all, let them draw grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist. If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather must they, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance. [GO TO CONFESSION!] In this way, for sure, they will be able to reach that perfection of married life [aka “ideal”] which the Apostle sets out in these words: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church…  Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church… This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

We have ideals to live.  If we fall from the ideal, we must get up, turn, and return to the Father’s house through the door of the confessional.  Then, as Paul says, we can have the strengthening nourishment of the Eucharist, and only then.

Paul’s words are realistic and, because they are the TRUTH, they are comforting.   They reflect authentic mercy.  They do not condemn.  They correct and teach.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Malta says:

    Christ was truly speaking through Paul VI in this document.

  2. Malta says:

    Paul VI did something else I really like: the lifting of Excommunication against Orthodox Christians.

  3. LarryW2LJ says:

    Another Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

    Life is tough, but we have been promised that Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden, light. They are, if we ask for His help (grace). We cannot even begin to accomplish these goals on our own, we need His help. And that means being faithful, going to Confession, attending Mass and doing all the other things (fasting, almsgiving) that Catholics have been doing for centuries. These should all be “no brainers” for us.

    And this is what we should be hearing in our homilies, on a regular basis – exhortations to be perfect – “Be perfect as My Father is perfect” – not lame excuses that what is asked of us is too hard, so “let’s find an easy way out.”

    My, how our spiritual muscles have atrophied and how weak we have become!

  4. Gaetano says:

    Catholicism ain’t bean bag.

    If I want someone to tell me I’m great all the time, I’ll just sleep in on Sunday mornings.

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